The Varieties of Religious Experience HTML version

Lectures 4 and 5. The Religion Of Healthy Mindedness
If we were to ask the question: "What is human life's chief concern?" one of the answers
we should receive would be: "It is happiness." How to gain, how to keep, how to recover
happiness, is in fact for most men at all times the secret motive of all they do, and of all
they are willing to endure. The hedonistic school in ethics deduces the moral life wholly
from the experiences of happiness and unhappiness which different kinds of conduct
bring; and, even more in the religious life than in the moral life, happiness and
unhappiness seem to be the poles round which the interest revolves. We need not go so
far as to say with the author whom I lately quoted that any persistent enthusiasm is, as
such, religion, nor need we call mere laughter a religious exercise; but we must admit that
any persistent enjoyment may PRODUCE the sort of religion which consists in a grateful
admiration of the gift of so happy an existence; and we must also acknowledge that the
more complex ways of experiencing religion are new manners of producing happiness,
wonderful inner paths to a supernatural kind of happiness, when the first gift of natural
existence is unhappy, as it so often proves itself to be.
With such relations between religion and happiness, it is perhaps not surprising that men
come to regard the happiness which a religious belief affords as a proof of its truth. If a
creed makes a man feel happy, he almost inevitably adopts it. Such a belief ought to be
true; therefore it is true--such, rightly or wrongly, is one of the "immediate inferences" of
the religious logic used by ordinary men.
"The near presence of God's spirit," says a German writer,[31] "may be experienced in its
reality--indeed ONLY experienced. And the mark by which the spirit's existence and
nearness are made irrefutably clear to those who have ever had the experience is the
utterly incomparable FEELING OF HAPPINESS which is connected with the nearness,
and which is therefore not only a possible and altogether proper feeling for us to have
here below, but is the best and most indispensable proof of God's reality. No other proof
is equally convincing, and therefore happiness is the point from which every efficacious
new theology should start."
[31] C. Hilty: Gluck, dritter Theil, 1900, p. 18.
In the hour immediately before us, I shall invite you to consider the simpler kinds of
religious happiness, leaving the more complex sorts to be treated on a later day.
In many persons, happiness is congenital and irreclaimable. "Cosmic emotion" inevitably
takes in them the form of enthusiasm and freedom. I speak not only of those who are
animally happy. I mean those who, when unhappiness is offered or proposed to them,
positively refuse to feel it, as if it were something mean and wrong. We find such persons
in every age, passionately flinging themselves upon their sense of the goodness of life, in
spite of the hardships of their own condition, and in spite of the sinister theologies into
which they may he born. From the outset their religion is one of union with the divine.
The heretics who went before the reformation are lavishly accused by the church writers